Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Anti-Avengers? Why not!

When people ask me that old “What’s better, Marvel or DC?” chestnut—and not just who’s better in the here and now, since obviously I’ve got a horse in that race and can’t answer without bias, but rather of all-time—I prefer to avoid answering by instead talking about the differences between the two. In short, rather than pick one of the classic super hero universes over the other, I’d rather ruminate on the root contrasts between them and why those separating factors ensure that each has an important role to play in this larger industry we love.

DC does the big cosmic stakes stuff. Marvel does the down to earth relatable stuff. DC celebrates legacy. Marvel has characters with feet of clay. You’ve heard it all before, and frankly, in 2010 there’s nothing either company does that the other can’t—Marvel can certainly do a Crisis-level event darn well and DC has created plenty of characters with grounded and relatable personas—but there will definitely always be something in the base DNA of both universes that separate them.

And now to move away from a dangerously intelligent dissection of what makes super hero comics tick, let me swerve over to a far more in-my-ballpark proletarian (looked it up) statement around which I shall frame the rest of this post: DC has more evil twins than Marvel does.

Don’t get me wrong, Venom is awesome, and to a lesser extent so are Sabretooth, Abomination and all those armored bad guys that Iron Man fights, but most of those folks aren’t really classic evil twins, and even if, you can’t really hold them up to the collective grouping of Bizarro, Sinestro, Reverse-Flash, Ocean Master, the Crime Syndicate, the Legion of Super-Villains, and so on and so on.

The fact of the matter is that while Marvel was really born out of the socially-conscious super soap opera stylings of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, et al., DC grew out of the fantastical sci-fi landscape imagined by Gardner Fox, Julius Schwartz and their crew, and it was a multiverse that utilized every tried and true trope of the genre, one of which happened to be evil twins. And hey, they’re tried and true for a reason; opposite number villains is the type of concept that makes our inner-10-year-old squeal with delight (ask Sean T. Collins).

One of my favorite evil twin comic concepts is when they all team up together to take out a grouping of their heroic counterparts. The aforementioned Crime Syndicate is the prime example of that, but another story I really love is Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s “Rock of Ages” from JLA where Lex Luthor gets a whole Injustice League together specifically composed of villains to counter the then-roster of the Justice League; a lot of Luthor’s picks were more archenemy types than doppelgangers—The Joker and Mirror Master aren’t terribly similar to Batman and The Flash on a superficial level—but I still liked the strategic human chess “I’ll counter Martian Manhunter with Jemm” aspect of it all.

Marvel has had teams like this in the past. The original Masters of Evil were pretty much the inverted Avengers, with Baron Zemo (a Captain America villain), Radioactive Man (a Thor villain), The Melter (an Iron Man villain) and The Black Knight (another Iron Man villain, because Giant-Man and The Wasp never fought anybody cool). I also remember quite fondly a story I’m not sure anybody else feels similarly about towards the tail end of Chuck Austen’s X-Men tenure where he and Salvador Larroca created a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that had Sabretooth and Nocturne in there just for the sake of having “dark” Wolverine and Nightcrawler analogs because that seemed cool to me. The Dark Avengers would also be a pretty obvious example of what I’m talking about here, and I really liked that idea, but in a lot of cases the characters were plucked out of their elements and molded to what Osborn needed as opposed to say Bullseye being a bad Hawkeye or Moonstone as malevolent Ms. Marvel defining who they are.

I would really dig seeing a big ol’ anti-Avengers team though. As I’ve said more than once, I consider Roger Stern and John Buscema’s “Under Siege” to be not only one of the best Avengers tales ever, but one of the flat-out best comic book stories of all-time. The deal there was that Baron Zemo attempted to overwhelm Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with numbers, counting on having three of his Masters of Evil for every one Avenger being enough, and it nearly was if not for the usual backstabbing, ego and underestimation that we know we love seeing bad guys fall prey to in the end. More recently, The Hood pulled a similar routine with his gang, piling up the odds with tons of villains, and he also had some success, but fell in with the wrong crowd. Speaking of that wrong crowd, Norman Osborn did organize his own anti-Avengers team, but preferred to wage a PR battle more than a physical one at most points during his Dark Reign, so I don’t feel like we really got a full-on Avengers vs Dark Avengers throwdown before his house of cards crumbled, despite tantalizing teases.

I’d love to see a new Masters of Evil where it’s a line-up specifically tailored to take on the heroes currently comprising the Avengers. With the A-team currently being more iconic and filled with a diverse roster of heroes than perhaps ever before, it’s the perfect time for it. And if Brian Bendis called me tomorrow (which he never does) to ask for my roster, here’s what I’d hand him…

Natural pick for team leader both based on history and because he’s a perfect foil for Steve Rogers as well as Bucky Barnes. Ed Brubaker has been doing a great job sprucing Zemo up over in Captain America and he’s always got great motivation to put together a scheme like this because no matter how many times he teases a hero turn, at the heart of his motivation is that he believes he is better and more deserving of glory than everybody else, so if taking out the Avengers validates that, he’ll do it; great character, excellent starting point.

The kid who nearly took Tony Stark apart has been lying low since his debut in the first arc of Invincible Iron Man, but I’d say he’s due for a return. If Zeke almost got the job done on his own, why not join up with some like-minded allies to try again? But then that’s the best part about this Stane: he’s really not like-minded with anybody, being an anarchist like he is, so he’s a total wild card whom Zemo would love to have, but need to keep an eye on at all times.

Speaking of evil twins and speaking of wild cards, Thor’s clone gives the Masters a primo powerhouse, a reminder to Iron Man of a huge mistake he made, and a potentially uncontrollable force of nature to spice things up. Seeing him one-on-one with Thor again would be great, but how about watching him match up with his creator?

I know Gabriel Stacy is a polarizing character among fans to say the least, but with Harry Osborn working well closer to the side of angels these days, a gleefully psychotic wannabe successor to big daddy Norman has a lot of potential, and he does have those personal ties to Spider-Man as well, considering his mother. And again, he presents a potential opponent for multiple Avengers with his Iron Man-like armor and Captain America-esque patriotic trappings.

So Sabretooth is out of the running at the moment as the potential anti-Wolverine here, and Daken just did this gig, so I went with the underrated and underutilized Lady Deathstrike, who makes for a cunning and ruthless element added to the mix. The Lady actually has a thing or two in common with Baron Zemo, with both having a peculiar code of honor, so that could be interesting.

Two of my favorite somewhat obscure Marvel cosmic characters, as they’re kind of Kree second draft attempts at Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, which makes them perfect to match up against Carol Danvers and Noh-Varr.

When last we saw Jazinda, she was She-Hulk’s Skrull buddy, but getting a little frustrated with the xenophobic attitude of humans towards her in the wake of Secret Invasion. Given then Jen Walters seemingly abandoned her at some point, maybe the daughter of the original Super-Skrull joins up with Zemo and uses Spider-Woman as a punching bag to sort out some of her racial issues.

I don’t think Bullseye makes a good fit here, nor would I really want to drag him away from the events of Shadowland—if he can even be dragged at this point—plus Jim McCann is doing nice work making Crossfire a potent nemesis for Hawkeye over in the book he shares with Mockingbird, so let’s go this way.

I’m not suggesting reverting the current Steel Phoenix to villainy, since Davos has had a nice arc over the past several years and deserves a little longer going for redemption at my eyes, but since the Immortal Weapons are all about lineage, if he’s not getting the job done, let’s see his powers-that-be empower a new Steel Serpent to be Iron Fist’s dark mirror.

Remember the cyborg mastermind behind Secret War? She hasn’t been seen since her initial defeat and, as I recall, came real close to killing Luke Cage, causing Jessica Jones no small stress in the offing. Another real power player too.

She’s the female Ultron with the brain patterns of Mockingbird; she adds one of the Avengers’ deadliest and most terrifying foes to the Masters of Evil line-up and screws with Bobbi Morse to boot. She’s also nuts.

Ben Grimm’s old girlfriend, Sharon Ventura—aka the second Ms. Marvel—was last seen as an Initiative hero, but she has prone susceptible to rage and manipulation before, so it could happen again. With The Thing now a full-fledged Avenger, you’ve got to have a Master of Evil who can make it personal for him. Zemo could also give her back her good looks if he really wanted to stick it to Grimm.

So there you have it: My Masters of Evil. Not a bad line-up if I do say so myself, and I didn’t even have to use the Wrecking Crew.

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